-or – Teammates aren’t friends and rivals aren’t enemies

You know I keep telling you guys I like sports anime but I’ve very little proof to back it up. I rarely talk about the genre, heck I haven’t even watched that many lately. I’m not even sure why. I just got distracted I guess. But 2018 has been decent for sports animes. Between Megalobox, Run like the Wind. The flawed but charming Harukana receive Hanébado!, Hinomaru Sumo and Tsurune, I’ve rekindled my specific interest in these stories.

Tsurune episode 11 (63)
I have so many Tsurune screencaps

With the announcement of a 4th Haikyuu season, I’ve had sports anime on the brain and I just want to talk about it with someone. People I know in real life have been quietly walking away from me when I try to start the conversation so here we are. Aren’t you lucky! I’m gonna babble about sports anime and why I like them. Fun times!

There are in fact many subjective reasons for my personal interest in the genre and surprisingly few have anything to do with character design. I mean it’s not a drawback or anything…. Today, I’m going to talk about the peculiar social constructs of sports anime. Mainly, the relationships.

In short, teammates aren’t friends, and that’s great! Sure a lot of these shows still focus on some sort of friendship bond but not as much as most genres. The central relationships explored aren’t necessarily friendly or romantic. In Haikyuu for instance Hinata and Kageyama aren’t really friends. They appreciate and respect each other but if they weren’t on the same team,  they wouldn’t necessarily talk. The same thing can be said for pretty much all the Ace of Diamond characters who have actual friends off the team that make regular appearances.

fine prove me wrong..um…me

What’s interesting to me is that the dynamic and emotional impact of such relationships are completely different and rarely explored in other genres. In a way, it’s a bit like being co-workers, brought together by a common goal rather than mutual fondness. However the heightened tension brought about by competition creates much more intense emotional reactions. I guess it’s also somewhat like soldiers fighting together but you get to go home each night and talk to your actual friends.

Like I said it’s fairly unique. These particular circumstances mean that you can create those high drama moments in a fairly natural way, without making your characters seem completely insane. But the conflicts which come up in these narratives, and their resolutions, are driven by fairly dispassionate practical considerations. You can’t see those aspects of the characters once too many feeeeeelings get involved. Sports are logical and straightforward. You want to win so work your behind off and get nervous before competitions. If you do win you’re super happy, if you don’t you’re disappointed. See? Logical.

Before you bombard me with all those titles that have strong emotional plotlines, I’m not saying sports anime don’t have friendly or even romantic relationships as important narrative elements. I’m only saying they don’t necessarily have to, which allows for some flexibility.

finally an excuse to use this!

And the flipside of teammates not being friends is that rivals aren’t enemies. The concept of rivalry is more frequent as it translates better to other genres. A likable fellow who isn’t bad at all and could even have been friends with the protagonist under different circumstances but finds themselves on opposite side of an issue. The confrontation isn’t personal.

Rivals are a useful narrative element. You can easily switch their roles without having to justify too much to your audience. They are great motivators but don’t make your hero look like an obsessed maniac if they fixate on them. The rivalry itself can be separated from the character to a certain degree.

I really liked Hikaru no Go when I was younger. Hikaru and Touma are a great example of rivalry. They aren’t friends and they face off and will find themselves on opposite sides of the board in the future as well. They have very different personalities and aren’t likely to get along. However, they also live in the very small world of professional competitive Go. A word the vast majority of people know absolutely nothing about. Very few people can ever understand Hikaru and relate to his experience the way Touma can, and vice versa. It’s a comfortable relationship tingeds with constant threat.

I enjoy variety, that’s why the possibility of following interactions that are neither romantic, friendly  or aggressively adversarial is interesting to me. There are many ways in which we, as individuals come together. It doesn’t always have to be over feelings or last forever. Sometimes you just try your best to accomplish something specific with anyone willing and able to help, and that’s special too.


37 thoughts

  1. Sports anime (well manga) is a part of me. Most sports manga are on my ongoing list, especially the deeply psychological ones.
    Add you said Rin-san, the character dynamics are much more delved into in a sports manga or anime than others. Or that could just me being biased haha.
    Like REAL for example, I’ve talked about it recently on my owls post but the impact it had was amazing.
    Area no kishi was another brilliant but slightly unreal sports representation. But Baby Steps has got to be one of the most researched and developed in terms of not only reality but also technical aspects. The character relations are milder but also so much more real which makes them relatable and awesome.
    Anyway, I’ll stop before I make this an article…

  2. No, that’s another one of the 200-odd shows on the “maybe I’ll get around to it someday” list. Enough people that I trust have enjoyed it that I’m sure I’d probably like it, there are just too many other things I want to watch too.

    And we totally agree on Euphonium. That is a sports anime, and a damn good one. Even if concert band isn’t a traditional “sport,” the narrative structure, themes, and dramatic beats in the series all fit very comfortably in the genre. The only thing we don’t get are the matches that run 2, 3, 4 episodes long, because that would just be ridiculous.

  3. Funny thing with me and sports anime is that I’m usually drawn to franchises where the “sport” is either very esoteric like Bamboo Blade (kendo), or entirely fictional like Angelic Layer. Harukana Receive was an exception, but usually I have trouble geting into shows that focus on actual mainstream sports. Based on the amount of time and money spent, I’d have to call Saki my favorite sports anime/manga, and that’s another one where the “sport” (mahjong) is way off the radar for most people.

    1. Have you seen scorching ping pong girls? If so, did you like it?
      You know I’ve always thought the Sound! Euphonium is essentially a sports anime, it hits a LOT of the tropes and has the exact same narrative structure: underdog discovers their passion, “team” learns to work together, practi and tournament… Basically, sound euphonium is a sports anime that I love and Free! is not a sports anime… I have OPINIONS!

      1. Music is a sport that uses instruments. It requires extremes in physical dexterity. It is often performed as a team sport. There is no place for the difference of style in an orchestra, band or even duet. Harmony and synchronization are the ideal.

        Soloists can afford idiosyncrasies. They can stand above the rest and have their own style, their own pacing.

        In anime about music, there is usually a competition ahead. Sometimes it is music for its own sake but more often it is a fight about who will go on to a higher competition, who will win the gold.

  4. I love sports anime so much! I guess mainly because it somehow lets me take a peek on lives that I can’t live on my own since I’m not really athletic. I enjoy the characters’ dynamics on them, too!

    You mentioned Haikyuu!!’s S4 and I’m soooo hyped again!!! Daiya no A’s getting its Act II adaptation next season, too! And Chihayafuru as well! *heartsss*

  5. I thought 2018 was an excellent year for sports. I haven’t heard about the new Haikyuu, yet, but I’m not surprised. I’ll be watching it, which makes it one of the few shows with tons of episodes I’m not losing interest in – watching it as it airs helps, with the forced breaks. For example, I’ve tried to watch Hikaru no Go multiple times, but everytime I get intimitated by the episode count, before I ever click play on the first episode. I could just watch it on a cour-basis, I suppose, but stopping when there’s more feels, unconciously?, like dropping it…

    Anyway, those relationships in sport are excellent, and they’re indeed the main draw for me. (I tend not to be very interested in the sports themselves.)

    Japanese relationships are often pretty involved and complicated, and I’m used to seeing confusion even among them the characters themselves (“Let’s be friends!” – “Wait, we’re not firends already?”). Sports shows tend to emphasise the nakama level, but you usually do have tomodachi within the group (I’d say Tsukushima/Yamaguchi in Haikyu qualify as tomodachi). It’s a little complicated for me, because I’m not sure where the borders between the words are: With shinyuu (best friends) and osananajimi (childhood friends) I’m not sure if they’re subtypes of tomodachi, or if they’re separate concepts with overlap. In any case, you describe it well.

    I’ve recently finally gotten around to watching Taishou Yakyuu Musume, where a group of girls in the 1920s were forming a baseball club, at a time when women playing baseball wasn’t a thing. These girls had the added problem that they had to find people to play them, which was hard because of gender expectations there was no other girl team and the boys didn’t take them seriously. So even practising is hard. From what people told me I expected it to be a more dramatic show, but it ended up a fun and playful show, where people kept telling them they can’t do that, and then they did it anyway.

    Next season, I’m looking forward ot Mix, mostly because I enjoyed Cross Game a lot, and the manga’s from the same mangaka.

    1. Of course I’m out of the loop so I needed to look up Mix. I sounds interesting – I hope I can watch it too

  6. I don’t think I’d even considered watching sports anime until the summer when I stumbled into Harukana and Hanebado. Loved the first and enjoyed most of the second. Now, I find myself watching Hinomaru Sumo and also loving it. I never imagined I’d be enjoying a series about sumo wrestling but here we are.

    Sports anime definitely has a special property that captures your breath and leaves you feeling like you’ve just taken part too. I certainly won’t be dismissing any sports anime off the bat any more.

    1. Honestly, I’m not interested in sports almost at all. I love swimming and Basketball’s okay but other than that, I still don’t see how people can love sports so much. My depression has lasted for a day and a half now… I also love anime.

  7. I get you. These are the reasons I love sports anime as well. It took me longer to get understand what they were really about so I put off watching them for a long time. Then like you said, the relationships between the teammates is really what makes it for me. Of course you have the shipping but it is unromantic and I really like guys being friends with guys without some of the hangups that males/females have sometimes with being close with each other. I just like seeing that honest open friendship.

    1. I also agree with you, kimchisama. I like to see when people get along together. Like in the romance shows I watch, they give me awesome feelings to see the Romeo get the Juliet.Similar to the way I like to see Glitter Force because they try to spread love and peace through the world instead of letting all the evil corrupt it. Some of the anime shows are like that too which is why I like them. I also just adore the graphics.

      1. This is completely different subject but I’m curious. You only like comments but never posts. Is it because you actually don’t like the posts? If so, any advice for how to improve them?

        1. She may not be able to like posts for technical reasons. When I use my phone that is the case.

          In fact, when I’d go to the blog itself on my PC, it used to prevent me from liking blog posts even though I could (usually) post responses and like replies. I had to go in and allow the domain wordpress.com to allow pop-ups before I could like a post when I was on the blog site itself outside the reader.

          A blank little window would pop up and disappear almost instantly when I tried but my like would never appear. I think it is some kind of WP login that ordinarily is invisible.

            1. WordPress can behave in strange ways sometimes. I’m accessing your site from two different computers. One one I can see how many people liked a comment, but not who. On the other, the icon next to the like star simply never finishes loading. On a previous version, I could see how many people liked a post, and it would show me who when I hover over the icon.

              Other sites have other funky effects that I can only get rid of by clearing all wordpress cookies. Interesting really. Maybe it’s a combination of virus software, pop-up blockers and add blockers that does it?

            2. Yes. All the above. If you are not viewing thru Reader all kinds of bizarre things can happen. And even then.

        2. No, I love them, it’s just that I didn’t see the option to do so. I only just noticed it today actually. I’m going to like this post now.

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